The Plank and Why It’s Necessary for Overall Fitness
By Brian Koning, ACE- CPT
Your arms are shaking. Beads of sweat are dripping from your forehead. You quads are burning. Your lower back is starting to give out. Your abs are cramping up. Your trainer is yelling at you, “DON’T YOU DROP!” You look up at the clock and its only 30 seconds into your plank.
The basic plank is full-body, isometric exercise that involves maintaining a difficult position for extended periods of time. The most common plank is the front plank which is held in a push-up position with the body’s weight borne on forearms, elbows, and toes. It is used to strengthen your “core” which you can think of as a six-sided box that includes the muscles and joints around your trunk and pelvis.
A strong core is vital to your body’s overall strength, even when it becomes to performing ADLs (Activities of Daily Living). It can protect your back from injury, help you control your movements, make you more agile and improve your balance. A weak core makes you vulnerable to low back pain and injury. You may also suffer from poor posture and joint problems.
The primary muscles the plank works are the erector spinae, the rectus abdomimus and the transverse abdominus. The erector spinae is a large muscle that runs up the length of the back. It surrounds your spine and allows you to straighten your back and rotate side to side. The rectus abdominus is the front of your abdominal wall – the muscle associated with the enviable “six-pack.” The transverse abdominus is a deep abdominal muscle that helps hold in your internal organs and stabilizes the spine. A weak transverse abdominus is one of the major contributors to chronic low back pain.
Your stabilizing muscles are also engaged. When you perform the plank on your forearms, you activate the trapezius and rhomboids at the upper back. All three deltoid muscles and the rotator cuff at the shoulder work to stabilize your torso. The pectorals and the serratus anterior which comprise the chest and muscles around the ribs are challenged. The glutes, the quadriceps at the front of the thigh and the gastrocnemius — the largest calf muscle – also assist when performing planks.
In our FitNow Boot Camp program, we not only work on the standard “elbow plank”, but we also do many variations of the plank. Side planks focus more on your “obliques”, the side abdominal muscles that help with bending and twisting. We also perform rotating planks up/down side planks which move us away from the isometric exercise to one that improves joint mobility and range of motion.
If you want to improve your overall core, then slip a few 30-second planks into your morning exercise routine. Then, each week, add another 15-30 seconds to your planks until you can comfortably perform a 3-minute plank without losing form.